Are Bachelor’s Degrees Worth the Time and Money Invested?
In today’s world, many young people discover or identify their specialties through college. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, more than 20.02 million students were enrolled for undergraduate degrees during the 2021–2022 academic year. It may seem high, but this enrollment rate has decreased by 800,000 students since 2020 (National Center for Education Statistics, 2022).
In addition to the decreasing enrollment rate, the undergraduate dropout rate has been increasing. Research by Melanie Hanson, an education analyst, indicates that up to 32.9% of undergraduates drop out of their degree programs and do not finish their bachelor’s degrees (Hanson, 2022). It is clear that there are factors preventing people from completing a higher education degree at the same rate they were even a few years ago. Despite factors, receiving a four-year degree is worth investing time and money because of networking opportunities, preparation for future employment, and the high potential salary.
- Are Bachelor’s Degrees Worth the Time and Money Invested?
The Impact of COVID-19 on College
Analyzing the National Center for Education statistics about undergraduates, the younger generation might start thinking, is a bachelor’s degree worth the time and money invested? Many people have various points of view on this question because there are some benefits and challenges to pursuing a bachelor’s degree. Some drop out of school due to personal financial challenges or mental health situations. Another reason they stopped attending college was the COVID-19 pandemic. According to National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, undergraduate student enrollment fell 6.6% from the fall of 2019. The pandemic had an impact on college students and those who were planning to attend.
Nowadays, people can receive a bachelor’s degree without going to college physically. Instead, they can stay home, take university-level classes, and eventually receive a diploma from the university. According to National Center for Education Statistics, almost 11.8 million of all undergraduate students were enrolled in remote education courses in the autumn of 2020, and 7.0 million of all undergraduate students only took distance education courses. Before the COVID-19 pandemic in the autumn of 2019, 97% more undergraduate students enrolled in at least one remote education course in 2020.
In 2020 compared to 2019, 186% more undergraduate students were enrolled exclusively in online education courses (National Center for Education Statistics, n.d.). Higher education is changing its structure and style due to the pandemic, and it can affect students positively and negatively. However, those who receive higher education degrees do not always perceive the true value of attending college in person. Attending college in person has benefits, such as expanding the network and improving interpersonal skills.
Benefits of Attending College
Attending college in person provides networking opportunities for students, and explaining networks is essential in their careers. According to research by Lou Adler, the CEO of Performance-based Hiring Learning Systems, 85% of all jobs are found through networking (Adler, 2020). As students attend college, they can meet new people and professors. They can discover career and internship possibilities they have yet to learn about by developing a professional network. Knowing someone in a company can increase a student’s chances of being recruited or hired (Bonds-Raacke, 2017). Because of the network, students may find a job that suits them easily instead of applying for many jobs online.
Another benefit of networking at college is that many colleges offer a variety of activities and organizations that can provide students with opportunities to network with professionals in their fields of interest. For instance, business and marketing students can join a business club or attend industry conferences. This opportunity allows students to gain hands-on experience, develop soft skills, and expand networks. They can even receive and find mentors who are professionals. Furthermore, college alumni networks may be a helpful resource for both students and graduates. Several schools and institutions have alumni clubs or events that provide networking opportunities, mentorship programs, and job search assistance. These relationships allow students to learn about job openings, obtain references, or even get a job in their field.
Another benefit of attending college is that higher education can provide marketable skills such as communication, problem-solving, and critical thinking. Harvard Business Publishing mentioned the survey by ManpowerGroup, the innovative workforce solutions organization. Over 50% of businesses stated that problem-solving, teamwork, customer service, and communication are considered the top values (Harvard Business Review, 2019).
In addition, professors at Minnesota State University, Scott Wurdinger, and Mariam Qureshi, discovered that college courses that provide projects could increase students’ life skills, specifically problem-solving, creativity, responsibility, communication, and self-direction (Wurdinger & Qureshi, 2014). Group projects and presentations in the classroom need students to communicate well, collaborate effectively, and manage their time correctly. Students can learn to express their ideas clearly, listen to and absorb input from others, and contribute to a common objective at college. Attending college can provide opportunities for students to acquire critical skills for future employment, which can be one of the significant advantages of college.
Furthermore, colleges offer many different activities and organizations or clubs that can help students develop soft skills. Joining a club or organization can provide leadership, teamwork, and community involvement opportunities. For example, volunteering for a charity event or serving as a club officer can help students develop their communication, organization, and leadership skills. With these opportunities to improve marketable skills at college, students may have more advantages than those who do not attend college in person. It is important to have experiences demonstrating interpersonal skills at college because those abilities to communicate and collaborate with others are valuable in the workplace.
High Future Earnings
Lastly, one of the benefits of obtaining a bachelor’s degree is the increased potential for future earnings. According to Georgetown University, people with bachelor’s degrees earn 84% more than those without (Carnevale, Strohl, Melton, 2013). In another study by the U.S. Social Security Administration, on average, men who have obtained a bachelor’s degree earn around $900,000 more throughout their lifetime than individuals who have only graduated from high school. For women who hold a bachelor’s degree, their median lifetime earnings are $630,000 more than high school graduates (The U.S. Social Security Administration, 2015).
This demonstrates that regardless of gender or ethnicity, the economic returns of a college degree cannot be overlooked. There is a significant difference in their earnings; some majors lead to higher income than others. For example, if students pursue the software engineering field, their average salary can be $109,018 (Carnevale, Strohl, Melton, 2013). It is higher than the average salary for those who have a college degree. Obtaining a four-year degree can provide sufficient skills and knowledge for a job that pays a great among of money and helps them become financially stable. It helps individuals to feel secure with a job and a higher salary and increase their overall quality of life.
On the other hand, there are some occupations that do not require a bachelor’s degree and generate reasonable incomes. The U.S. Career Institute shows that more than 80 jobs that pay more than $50,000 (U.S. Career Institute, 2021). It indicates that there are other paths to financial stability without a college degree. For example, individuals may learn video editing skills, creating social media posts, or sales skills without attending college, and it is possible to earn close to $50,000 (U.S. Career Institute, 2021). People can earn about the same amount as those with a college degree. If they also work freelance, the potential earning can vary. It all depends on what career they pursue with or without a degree.
Challenges of Attending College
High Tuition Rate & Student Loan
In contrast, there are several challenges when it comes to attending college. one of the drawbacks of getting a 4-year degree can be expensive tuition. An educator analyst, Hanson, mentioned that the average expense of a university in the United States is $35,551 per student per year, including books, supplies, and living costs (Hanson, 2021). It is a significant amount of money that college students need to pay, and this financial matter can be one of the obstacles for them to pursue a bachelor’s degree.
According to Zack Friedman, the Founder & CEO of Mentor, in the United States alone, over 44 million borrowers owe $1.5 trillion in student loan debt (Friedman, 2018). Some of them pay more than ten years to pay off their debt even though they have graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree. It is a significant issue that can prevent people from enrolling in undergraduate and cause them to drop out of school due to financial problems.
Although dealing with a high tuition rate is challenging among college students, the government and colleges offer support. They take those challenges into account and provide help. First, scholarships can provide significant financial support for college students, especially those who may struggle to cover the cost of tuition, textbooks, and other expenses. According to Education Data Initiative, “first-time undergraduates who receive government grants and scholarships at a 4-year college receive about $13,690 annually,” The average scholarship amount per student in the US is $3,448 (Hanson, 2022).
Also, many colleges and universities offer scholarships within their schools in addition to the federal government. This kind of scholarship can help students reduce the financial burden of attending college. Because of financial aid, students can focus more on their academic pursuits and less on their financial worries. In short, scholarships can provide not only financial support but also mental and psychological support for college students.
Mental Health Challenges
Another challenge is that many students struggle mentally and emotionally because of college life, including many assignments and social pressure they need to carry. In a recent research published in September 2022, Sara Weissman investigated some reasons why some students drop out of school or do not even enroll. It is found that 38% of the study group of 1,675 students did not enroll due to concerns about the cost of college and accruing debt, 27% thought college would be “too stressful” or “too much pressure,” 26% thought it was more crucial to work and earn money, and 25% felt uncertain about their career trajectories and what they wanted to study (Weissman, 2022). It is clear that many college students feel stress and pressure.
Stress is a part o human life. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, seven out of ten people in the US experience stress or anxiety daily (The Anxiety and Depression Association of America, n.d.). Many adults experience stress each day, and it applies to college students. Researchers from the Franciscan University of Steubenville found that around 10% of college students in the U.S. have a depression diagnosis or need treatment (Beiter, et a, 2014). Students feel stressed out for various reasons. They can be because of financial challenges, homesickness, social anxiety, and academic grade. Mental health is a severe issue among college students, and taking care of themselves physically, mentally, and socially is essential.
Regarding mental issues among college students, many colleges and universities in the U.S. recognize the importance of mental and emotional well-being for college students. Many universities started providing counseling sessions for their students. Some universities provide a mental health training for their faculty and staff. For example, at the University of North Carolina, more than 900 faculty received training in Mental Health First Aid (Abrams, 2022). Many different kinds of support, including individual counseling, group therapy, and workshops on stress management and help college students ease their mental health challenges. Regardless of the challenges that students may have when it comes to attending college, it is possible that they can receive support, continue receiving education, and eventually obtain a bachelor’s degree.
As previously stated, getting a four-year degree has various pros and cons. People have many different opinions on whether working on a bachelor’s degree is worth the time and money invested because it is a big decision that young people must make. It has positive sides and challenges no matter what they decide. However, regardless of potential challenges such as high tuition and stressful life coming from college, having a 4-year degree is worthwhile investing time and money in because people with bachelor’s degrees may earn higher salaries than those without one.
College can provide opportunities to develop students’ interpersonal skills through classes and projects. Students can expand their network, and it opens career opportunities. However, despite all the different opinions, individuals need to consider and find a specific purpose when receiving higher education so that they can maximize their investment and achieve their objectives.